Belfast Telegraph

Planning permission red tape 'strangling economy'

By Sam Lister

Delays in planning permission for key projects like John Lewis are the biggest barrier to turning around Northern Ireland's economy, MPs have been told.

Economist John Simpson told the Northern Ireland Affairs committee that one of the top priorities for creating an enterprise zone must be reform of the much-criticised process, which he claimed was too rigid.

High Street retailer John Lewis has been trying to open a flagship branch in Lisburn since 2004.

But traders opposed the plans and it has been embroiled in a long-running planning wrangles ever since.

Mr Simpson said that companies could meet nine out of ten requirements when submitting an application but their plans would be thrown out because of the one they did not.

"High on my list would be the fact that many businesses regard the planning system as being loaded against them," he said.

"We are making these things into real hurdles and they should be processed."

Turning Northern Ireland into an enterprise zone would mean tax breaks and incentives for investors and potentially involves cutting the corporation tax rate to 12.5% to take it into line with the Republic's levy, he said.

Mr Simpson warned that reducing the tax would not on its own be enough to create a successful economy and that the focus must be on creating a more entrepreneurial spirit in the province.

"The search for supportive mechanisms to enhance the enterprise culture in Northern Ireland is an essential component of economic progress in the years ahead," he said.

"The failure of the recent past has been a failure to modernise, adapt and plan for an economy where achievements are enhanced.

"Without becoming a more enterprising economy, Northern Ireland might remain well down the European leagues table of self-sustaining vigorous regions," the economist warned committee members.